“Skiey Blossoms”

I was walking along the river today, enjoying all the trees and hedges covered with blossoms, feeling all Spring-like, and a line from a poem I learned in school, came into my head. I thought I would share some of it with you all. It’s from “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thomson. It seems apt for Easter weekend.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the days;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

(Yet I was sore adread

Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)

But, if one little casement parted wide,

The gust of His approach would clash it to:

Fear wist not to evaxe, as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent of the world I fled,

And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,

Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;

Fretted to dulcet jars

And silvern clatter the pale ports o’ the moon.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden – to Eve: Be soon –

With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over

From this tremendous lover!

Northanger Abbey | A Short Review.

I thought I had read all of Jane Austen’s novels but realised recently that I had missed Northanger Abbey and promptly downloaded it to my kindle. I wish I hadn’t; I can’t think of one good thing to say about this book. Can it possibly have been written by the same hand that gave us Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility etc?

This book was completed in 1803, the first of Austin’s novels to be completed but it wasn’t published until after she died. You might think from this that I dislike classics; nothing could be more wrong. I love the classics, especially the ones I studied at school – contrary to the experience of many people.

So, I began to read with anticipation only to be terribly disappointed. The writing is extremely wordy, vague, intricate and boring.. It’s like reading in a fog:

Compliments on good looks now passed; and, after observing how time had slipped away since they were last together, how little they had thought of meeting in Bath, and what a pleasure it was to see an old friend, they proceeded to make enquiries and give intelligence as to their families, sisters, and cousins, talking both together, far more ready to give than to receive information, and each hearing very little of what the other said. Mrs. Thorpe, however, had one great advantage as a talker, over Mrs. Allen, in a family of children . . . “

A lot of words saying nothing at all, even allowing for the utterly different style of writing in the 19th century.

Northanger Abbey itself doesn’t appear in the book until 66% has been read already (according to kindle), and is a peculiar sort of Abbey. I could get no idea of its shape and size. At this point some gothic nonsense is inserted and lasts for a couple of chapters. Some parts of the house would appear to be out of bounds, and peculiar furniture appears in Catherine’s bedroom with secret doors and drawers which give her an uneasy feeling. However this is all soon forgotten – with no explanation for the strange furniture – and returns to the main love story which is so uninteresting that the reader could not care less whether there was a happy ending or not.

The heroine is young, an idealist, and, sometimes, innocent to the point of imbecility. The hero does nothing heroic; he is just there for Catherine to fall in love with. There are a couple of female characters who could have been developed into interesting people to read about but it never happened. They remained as puppets. As this was Austen’s first book, perhaps she was simply trying out various ideas and never meant for it to be published. It reads like a very long first draft, with a little of this and that. The only thing the book does is give us an idea of society, the mores, the morals, the intricacies of class distinction, the manners and the dress code. An essay would have done that job very well.

Has anyone else read this book recently? I would be very interested to hear someone else’s view.

Quotes from “Coming Up for Air” by George Orwell

“I was trying to shave with a bluntish razor-blade while the water ran into the bath. My face looked back at me out of the mirror, and underneath, in a tumbler of water on the little shelf over the washbasin, the teeth that belonged in the face. It was the temporary set that Warner, my dentist, had given me to wear while the new ones were being made. I haven’t such a bad face, really. It’s one of those bricky-red faces that go with butter-coloured hair and pale-blue eyes. I’ve never gone grey or bald, thank God, and when I’ve got my teeth in I probably don’t look my age, which is forty-five.”

There is so much more to Orwell than Animal Farm and 1984 and I love this book – Coming Up for Air. It’s the story of a man on a day out, searching for scenes of his childhood. It’s so very readable and engrossing. I read several passages over and over again. But I’ll just add one more here.

“I bent down to pick up a primrose. Couldn’t reach it – too much belly. I squatted down on my haunches and picked a little bunch of them. Lucky there was no one to see me. The leaves were kind of crinkly and shaped like rabbits’ ears. I stood up and put my bunch of primroses on the gatepost. Then on an impulse I slid my false teeth out of my mouth and had a look at them. If I’d had a mirror I’d have looked at the whole of myself, though, as a matter fact, I knew what I looked like already. A fat man of forty-five, in a grey herringbone suit a bit the worse for wear and a bowler hat. Wife, two kids and a house in the suburbs written all over me. Red face and boiled blue eyes. I know, you don’t have to tell me. But the thing that struck me, as I gave my dental plate the once-over before slipping it back into my mouth, was that it doesn’t matter. Even false teeth don’t matter. I’m fat – yes. I look like a bookie’s unsuccessful brother – yes. No woman will ever go to bed with me again unless she’s paid to. I know all that. But I tell you I don’t care. I don’t want the women, I don’t even want to be young again. I only want to be alive. And I was alive that moment when I stood looking at the primroses and the red embers under the hedge. It’s a feeling inside you, a kind of peaceful feeling, and yet it’s like a flame.”

There, that’s enough. Has anyone else read this? Or other Orwells?

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I wonder how many of you out there remember this poem – you’d have to be a very mature person (like me). I’m sure it’s not on any school syllabus today. But it was great fun to read and study, especially (obviously) for teenage girls. It’s a great story, and a love story too. I really enjoyed all those old, narrative poems. I’ll write down a few verses here to give a flavour of the words and the rhythm of this long poem.

“Four gray walls, and four gray towers,

Overlook a space of flowers,

And the silent isle imbowers

The Lady of Shalott.

But who hath seen her wave her hand?

Or at the casement seen her stand?

Or is she known in all the land,

The Lady of Shalott

The story tells of this poor lady who has been cursed. If she looks out of her window, down to Camelot, a curse will fall upon her; she doesn’t know what the curse is, and so she continues to sit in her room and weave.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

Winding down to Camelot.

Well, gentle reader, the inevitable happened –

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;

On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;

From underneath his helmet flow’d

His coal-black curls as on he rode,

As he rode down to Camelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,

She made three paces thro’ the room,

She saw the water-lily bloom,

She saw the helmet and the plume,

She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

The curse is come upon me, cried

The Lady of Shalott.

When she goes down to Camelot she finds a boat and floats down the river singing to her self, and as she sings she dies. When she was found, no one knew who she was, but the knight was moved to comment.

But Lancelot mused a little space;

He said, She has a lovely face;

God in his mercy lend her grace.

The Lady of Shalott.

No one knows why this lady was cursed. According to google, it wasn’t important! I wish I could write it all down here but it is indeed very long. I’m glad to have read it again myself – after so many years!

From Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti | an excerpt

I am always interested to know where sayings and quotes come from so I was delighted to come across this verse in Goblin Market. The poem is sixteen pages long and tells the story of Laura, who, led astray by the Goblins, eats their fruit and thereafter pines away until she is almost dead. Her sister, Lizzie, braves the Goblin Market and acquires the antidote. Laura recovers and they both live long, happy lives.

One may lead a horse to water,

Twenty cannot make him drink.

Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,

Coaxed and fought her,

Bullied and besought her,

Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,

Kicked and knocked her,

Mauled and mocked her,

Lizzie uttered not a word;

Would not open lip from lip

Lest they should cram a mouthful in:

But laughed in heart to feel the drip

Of juice that syrupped all her face,

And lodged in dimples of her chin,

And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.

At last the evil people

Worn out by her resistance

Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit

Along whichever road they took,

Not leaving root or stone or shoot;

Some writhed into the ground,

Some dived into the brook

With ring and ripple,

Some scudded on the gale without a sound,

Some vanished in the distance.

I enjoyed reading the whole poem; I loved the imagery and the sounds – I read it aloud. There’s something so luscious about it.

More fun poems from way back when . . .

Fred by Horace Walpole

Here lies Fred,

Who was alive and is dead.

Had it been his father,

I had much rather;

Had it been his brother,

Still better than another;

Had it been his sister,

No one would have missed her;

Had it been the whole generation,

Still better for the nation.

But since it is only Fred,

Who was alive and is dead,

There’s no more to be said.

The Desired Swan-Song by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Swans sing before they die – ’twere no bad thing

Should certain persons die before they sing.

Stupidity Street by Ralph Hodgson

I saw with open eyes

Singing birds sweet

Sold in the shops

For the people to eat,

Sold in the shops of

Stupidity Street.

I saw in vision

The worm in the wheat,

And in the shops nothinjg

For people to eat;

Nothing for sale in

Stupidity Street.

You’d wonder why some of these poems were considered good enough for the school curriculum! I think I’ll have a look at love poems next . . .

From POEMS OLD AND NEW

Looking through my old book again, I noticed the title, as above; then I checked the publication date – 1933! Some of the poems are so deliciously old-fashioned that I am moved to share them – here’s a couple of short ones (some very short).

To Celia by Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise,

Doth ask a drink divine:

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,

I would not change for thine.

Waste by Harry Graham

I had written to Aunt Maud,

Who was on a trip abroad,

When I heard she’d died of cramp

Just too late to save the stamp.

Epitaph on Charles 11 by Earl of Rochester

Here lies our sovereign Lord the King,

Whose word no man relies on,

Who never said a foolish thing

Nor never did a wise one.

I hope these made you smile at least. More anon . . .

SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY by Lord Byron

I was leafing through my very old school poetry book and came across this one, which I had long forgotten. It’s so gorgeous I had to post it here. I hope you enjoy it.

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes,

Thus mellow’d to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impair’d the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face,

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o’er that brow

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent.

Percy Bysshe Shelley | Ode to the West wind

Every year at this time I quote this poem to anyone who will listen to me. I learned it off by heart at school when I was sixteen and still remember most of it. And this is my old school book – A Pageant of English Verse. The poem is quite perfect. I’ll just quote a few verses here, to give you a flavour of it – it’s very long in its entirety.

O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multudes – O thou

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds . . .

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O, wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Sea and Sardinia – a final excerpt

Before I leave this book I would like to share this piece – it’s so good! It’s a short book and the writing is brilliant. You’d have to read every paragraph twice. It’s a delight for any reader.

And they fell on their soup. And never, from among the steam, have I heard a more joyful trio of soup-swilkering. They sucked it in from their spoons with long, gusto-rich sucks. The maialino was the treble – he trilled his soup into his mouth with a swift, sucking vibration, interrupted by bits of cabbage, which made the lamp start to dither again. Black-cap was the baritone; good, rolling spoon-sucks. And the one in spectacles was the bass: he gave sudden deep gulps. All was led by the long trilling of the maialino. Then suddenly, to vary matters, he cocked up his spoon in one hand, chewed a huge mouthful of bread, and swallowed it down with a smack-smack-smack! of his tongue against his palate. As children we used to call this “clapping”.

“Mother, she’s clapping!” I would yell with anger, against my sister. The German word is schmatzen.

So the maialino clapped like a pair of cymbals, while baritone and bass rolled on. Then in chimed the swift bright treble.

At this rate however, the soup did not last long. Arrived the beefsteaks of pork. And now the trio was a trio of castanet smacks and cymbal claps. Triumphantly the maialino looked around. He out-smacked all.